This ’59 Sedan DeVille is emblematic of the sheer bigness that has been my summer this year. That’s the gist of my essay for today, to spare any of you from any unnecessary reading in a search for substance beyond that. And what an incredible summer it has been. Waiting for the southbound 147 bus at the end of July, all two-and-a-half tons of this aqua beauty came bounding down North Sheridan Road almost as reinforcement of my philosophy and mission to make the absolute most of this season. I know I succeeded, and with this being the last, official Tuesday of summer, I’m ready to embrace fall with no regrets after three months that included a destination vacation, at least five major art festivals, countless beach days, four museum visits, and an epic, nine-day road trip partially spent traversing my home state of Michigan.
Now, for a little on this ’59 Cadillac before I get started with the other things, in order to provide some foundation for my basic metaphor. In my mind, ’59 is the peak year for midcentury car styling excess, and Cadillacs, from the most prestigious of GM brands, were going to be the most flamboyant by nature and default. This DeVille has all of the things: mile-high tailfins that each housed twin, bullet-shaped taillamps, a giant, bubble-shaped, wraparound windshield as well as a panoramic rear window, length for days, and otherwise exaggerated styling. There were also two different rooflines one could order with your four-door hardtop DeVille (or downmarket Series 62): the four-window design seen here, or a six-window configuration with a small rear-quarter window aft of the back doors.
Unlike a decade later, when Cadillac buyers would show a clear preference for the more expensive DeVille over the lesser Calais models, sales of the closed ’59 Series 62 models bested those of the DeVille by about 6,200 units (59,600 vs. 53,400). DeVille prices were about 10% higher than those of the corresponding Series 62 models, though all were powered by the same 390 cubic-inch V8 engine with 325 horsepower.
S’mores on Huyck Lake. Coldwater, Michigan.
Curiously, both four-door versions of the DeVille shared a $5,498 base price (about $57,800 in 2023), and weighed about the same, at just over 4,800 pounds. Our featured car is one of about 12,300 four-window sedan DeVilles manufactured for ’59, so for it to be trucking along in traffic some sixty-four years later (sporting late-model Cadillac wheel covers) was a noteworthy occurrence as observed by some guy casually waiting for a bus. In all of its size and visual spectacle on display, it reminded me how my summer had been unfolding up to that point, with my commitment to attend a new-to-me happening or festival each weekend as I was able, in addition to just taking it easy.
Dinner at a pub-and-grub in Alpena, Michigan.
I had written earlier about my trip to see friends in greater Phoenix over this July 4th weekend, which was a blast. The crowning event of my summer that was already full of high points was finally having taken one form of the Great American Road Trip that I have mentioned many times here at CC as part of my wish list. This wasn’t a cross-country journey, as I had previously envisioned would be the case, but was rather a canvassing of Michigan over the course of nine days in August, with each stop facilitating a visit with friends, family, or loved ones from one period of my life or another.
The majestic Bluewater Bridge. Port Huron, Michigan.
My standby rental car agency in my neighborhood didn’t have the compact I had reserved and had offered to upgrade me for free to a fast-looking Dodge Charger with something like 200 miles on it. Concerned about gas mileage and with all of the driving I was going to be doing, and in the interest of taking this trip within a reasonable budget, I opted for the newish Subaru Outback that was also newly available and the only other available choice.
The Hotel Royal Oak. (Detroit suburb) Royal Oak, Michigan. I needed one motel night to myself.
Through on-the-spot internet research on my phone, I was able to find out that the Outback was likely to yield about 5 mpg more in combined highway-city driving than a six cylinder-equipped Charger, so I felt good about that choice. As I pulled onto DuSable Lake Shore Drive on my way out of the city and toward Michigan, I took this as Exhibit B or C of how I must be maturing by selecting a Subaru station wagon over a cool-looking Charger based on practical considerations like gas mileage. I’m sure I looked like a suburban soccer dad behind the wheel, but I didn’t care. The Subaru was a joy to drive, intuitive in its controls, and had plenty of room in the cargo area aft of the rear seats for the all the gifts I was going to deliver to everyone. (That was fun.) It also delivered on fuel economy.
En route to see friends in Otisville, Michigan, maybe a half-hour outside of Flint in Genesee County.
My first stop was to beautiful Huyck Lake in Coldwater, at the southern end of the state, probably not more than forty-five minutes driving distance from where my grandparents’ farm used to be in northwestern Ohio. After an overnight stay that included s’mores by the firepit as crickets chirped and fireflies glowed, I headed northeast all the way to Alpena. I absolutely loved staying just one night at my friends’ homes, and I would fall asleep smiling each night, a little hoarse from all the talking and laughter that had ensued. The next stop was to Lexington in the “thumb”, not far from Port Huron. We played euchre, the most awesomely Michigan of card games. At my friends’ suggestion, I later drove to the Bluewater Bridge on a drizzly morning to get some pictures of that beautiful structure. It was a serendipitous moment that a giant freighter happened to be passing beneath when I got there.
At the Back To The Bricks car festival. Downtown Flint, Michigan.
After a visit the next day with my Aunt Peggy and a high school friend in greater Detroit, I finally headed back home to Flint and its surrounding areas during the week of the famous Back To The Bricks car festival. It was my first time at this event since 2019 and since a host of personal life changes. I stayed at the home of one of my oldest friends in life (since the summer of 1980) and her family that week. As we all watched many of our generation’s favorite, old shows (In Living Color) and movies (I’m Gonna Git You, Sucka), it solidified in my mind what a great idea it had been to make this trip, and how blessed I had been that it had gone off without a hitch. I am loved, and my love is also valued.
I used to get really sad when I’d leave Flint after the car festival week was over. This time was different. Being fully present the whole time and having seen so many people I care about had made all the difference. I didn’t waste an iota of time or energy during this trip, not needing to recover from any crazy, late nights out or any other such thing. I did all of the things this summer, with the same kind of exuberance on display in the styling of this ’59 Cadillac. My summer 2023 felt like it was also 225 inches long, 80.2 inches wide, and 56.2 inches tall, on a whopping 130-inch wheelbase. Just as the style and general demeanor of later Cadillacs was much more subdued, I am now ready for the next cooler, calmer season. Thank you for letting me share my trip with you. I will always look back at summer 2023 with great joy and for inspiration of what is possible.
Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, July 30, 2023.